Does Shared Parenting Cause Divorce? (And Other Questions I Am Not Qualified to Answer.)

10 comments

Something I was reading the other day made reference to this article discussing a Norwegian study finding a higher divorce rate among married couples who shared housework, when compared to couples with clearly delineated traditional gender roles.  In other words, the implication is that when the woman does everything around the house, and the man is the breadwinner, the divorce rate drops.  There is nothing in here about gay and lesbian couples, so I’m afraid I can’t comment on that.  And in any event, I know junk science when I see it, so I’m not putting too much stock in this report anyway.  The article itself cautions that correlation does not necessarily equate causation, and that the supposed predisposition to divorce arises from different, although perhaps related, factors, such as a tendency to view marriage less as a sacred union, which in turn would make divorce more likely (so the theory goes).

While I’m still not sold, I find this interesting, because I have been reading a lot of blogs lately by religious women from traditional families who seem to be claiming exactly the same thing:  that the household, and marriages, run more smoothly when the woman stays home and does all the housework, and the man is the primary or sole source of family income.  These women don’t need a Norwegian study to tell them this, because, well, God says so.

Also not needed, apparently.
Also not needed, apparently.

To be fair, the Norwegian study doesn’t seem to say anything specifically about child-rearing duties, as opposed to plain old housework.  But what the study and the religious blogs seem to have in common is this basic idea:  that when peace and order follows when separate responsibilities are well-defined and accepted in the household.  The inverse theory is that when both spouses make an effort to split both work outside the home and work inside the home evenly, life is bound to get chaotic due to misperceptions over how much work the other spouse is doing and miscommunications over who should be doing what.

I do know one thing is for sure:  shared parenting (and by implication, shared responsibility for family income), is not the foolproof, simple solution.  I know this, because my husband and I are both full-time working professionals (he’s in IT and I’m an attorney), and in theory, we also bear equal responsibility for our children and keeping up the house.  And it is absolutely chaotic, and stressful, and the source of lots of arguments and grief for both of us.

This is where you expect me to say that I hold a grudge against my husband because I feel like I’m doing most of the work at home and with the kids.  Surprise!  In our house, it’s the other way around.  He has been pleading with me to get home at a reasonable hour (like 7:00 instead of 9:00) so that I can help him at least clean up after dinner and get the kids bathed and in bed.  It is really, really hard for him to do it almost every night without me.  And I should know — because in the morning, from about 6:30 on, I am all by myself, getting the kids dressed and myself caffeinated and out the door to do the daycare shuffle before work.

So maybe in a sense that counts as equal, or at least the definition of “shared parenting” you hear thrown around.  Maybe life would be easier if one of us (“You!” sings the chorus of traditional mom bloggers) did stay home with the kids full-time while the other one focused solely on breadwinning.  But then again, I have a sneaking suspicion that this solution is too simple of a theory to bear out in actual practice.  At least 100% of the time.  But shared parenting also is not a 100%, foolproof guarantee that everything — the house, the kids, the marriage — is going to be ok.  So maybe the true answer is this:  just figure out what works for you and your family.

Right now, it is 9:30 p.m., my two-year-old is crawling all over me instead of in bed, the kitchen is still a mess, and my blog post is WAY overdue.  Why?  The husband texted me while I was still at work at 5:00.  He asked if I would please come home early tonight, because today was terrible at work and the evening was sure to be exhausting.

So I did what I had to do:  I put off the blog for a couple hours so I could be home early.  At 8:00.

Image Credit.

10 comments on “Does Shared Parenting Cause Divorce? (And Other Questions I Am Not Qualified to Answer.)”

  1. I’ll go one further and share that my husband read about a study recently (in a men’s magazine no less) that said that couples who share household duties have less sex than those who divide duties in a more “traditional” way. I call BS.

    In any case, I will agree that my marriage is smoother when there is one parent (that would be me) at home. I joked that while I was at home I was the COO and my husband was the CFO. While it worked better for us, I realize it’s not for everybody so like everything else that relates to parenting. you need to find a balance that works for your family.

    1. Cora, I like the COO and CFO distinction. I was also thinking that in some households, the at-home parent is also the CFO. That was the way my in-laws did it — dad was busy making the money, and mom was the run doing the budget and paying bills. I think overall, treating the family unit as a small business really helps frame the division of duties.

      1. I’m laughing at myself now because I was totally excited by your reference to business executives and not at all responsive to the mention of sex in your comment, which you would think would get more attention. LOL.

  2. Duh! Women who don’t earn outside the household don’t have the option of leaving a marriage if they are unhappy! They don’t have a way to support themselves or their children.
    Its hard for them to leave so, They make it work. They are happy with the situation or suffer through life.

  3. Now, who said I do all the housework? 😉 I do a great deal of it, because I’m the person here, but my hubby does plenty of dishes and floors, and garbage-taking. I don’t believe there’s any problem with sharing household duties where possible. I have seen a lot of studies referenced recently that seem to show that a woman respects a man a lot less when he’s as much involved in the cleaning as she is, but I suspect that has less to do with how the chores are divided than who is doing the dividing. They may just be bossing their husbands around and surprise! not feeling terribly respectful of them when this gets results.

    1. Cindy, thanks so much for stopping by and for your comment. I haven’t read all of the studies individually, but your mention of them did remind me of a post I saw recently on Penelope Trunk’s careers blog: http://blog.penelopetrunk.com/2013/01/07/how-to-pick-a-husband-if-you-want-to-have-kids/ If you get a chance to look at it, would love to hear your thoughts on her premise that this is “primal.” I just find gender roles and all things gender theory so fascinating.

  4. Melanie, I love your thought-provoking posts. And I love the line where say “just figure out what works for your family” ~ I agree. And I also think that communication is key in any partnership, where it is clearly stated what each of the roles and expectations are. (I’m interested in that book ~ is this the book the study was in?)

    1. Kate, the study isn’t in the book that is pictured above. I just threw that in to be cute in the context of reading up on traditional religious households — the author of that book is a young lady who is warning fellow Christian women about the corruption that can come out of going to college, I believe. So just to clarify here, it was a little joke and has no real connection to the topic of the post. But for the record, I am interested in our views of gender and how they are informed by social and cultural norms.

  5. See, this is my take: I suppose, in theory, if the mom really wanted to be at home full-time forever and saw her duty as 100% of the house and the kids and the husband worked 9-5 and saw the house and kids not at all his duty (other than funding them), then perhaps that would be less stressful arrangement, provided everyone had full buy-in. However, most men want to (and feel they should be, for good reason!) be involved in their children’s lives as more than a source of funding. Similarly, we want our daughters to have choices in their adulthood as far as becoming doctors or auto techs or dress designers or at-home moms. If we want that choice for them, which I think is so important, it’s hard to get that message across if all of us moms are only home caring for the house and kids. They need to see there are options. I guess if we never expected women to have these choices then the really clear gender roles would be the answer? Maybe? Ugh. But this is why I think it’s important that we have the choice, and we can go back and forth between full time working, being at home, and part time working. What’s so hard, and I agree on this BIG time, is striking the balance where you feel like you’re doing “something more” than diapers/nursing/vacuuming/dusting and still feeling like you’re there for your kids and making them the main priority. This is the balance that I’m struggling with, too, and I have no answers….but for me, being home full time is not balance. As I’m looking for something part time, I’m worrying about keeping my resume current, employers taking me seriously, and my newly-earned grad degree becoming “stale”. You know??

    1. Oh Sarah, I know!! That is to say, I haven’t lived it, but these thoughts go through my head when I consider staying home with the kids full time (and I have). For whatever reason, biology, socio-cultural (see my other comments on here), etc., it does see, that a lot of women (as opposed to men) want to work part-time while “staying home” (whatever that really means) with their kids. And I think part-time can mean a few days a week in an office somewhere in the traditional sense, or by way of blogging, or a home business, or some form of passive income. For some of us, it may mean having more of a lifestyle business than either a traditional job OR a traditional start-up business — the point being to stay current, make some side income, whatever, but not have a booming career because for most of us this seems either impossible or not worth the headache.

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